It has been a year since eight Congress MLAs defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party, reducing their parent party to just three MLAs in the State Legislative Assembly, and bolstering their new party to the figure of 28 in the same Assembly.
Twelve months later, the much-awaited cabinet reshuffle that would reward some of the seniors among the defecting MLAs with cabinet berths has not happened and is now appearing like a distinct possibility.
If the MLAs had defected in the hope that they would get some recompense for switching allegiance, then they would be disappointed. The speculation at that time, which still continues today, is that at least two of the defecting MLAs will be getting cabinet berths, only nobody seems to know when this will happen.
That aside, one has to look at how this defection changed the composition of the Assembly. With that defection, the Bharatiya Janata Party government went on to have a four-fifth majority in the 40-member Assembly.
With 28 MLAs, its own strength crossed two-thirds and then it had three Independents and two MLAs of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, making a total of 33 MLAs.
The opposition strength was reduced to seven MLAs – three of the Congress, two of the Aam Aadmi Party and one each of the Goa Forward Party and Revolutionary Goans Party. It was clear at that time that Goa’s Assembly was going to see a weakened opposition.
It was expected that with less than 20 per cent of the strength of the Assembly, the opposition would not be able to push through its amendments to Bills or even get the government to concede to any of their demands.
The Assembly sessions since then have numerous examples of this, and the opposition walkouts are an instance of how that is the only manner in which they can get their views heard by the people, if not by the treasury benches.
The opposition might have forced discussions on certain issues, but their views and opinions were drowned by those of the MLAs who sit on the government side in the house.
The weakened strength of the opposition was in full display when the combined opposition was unable to field a candidate in the Rajya Sabha election in July this year, allowing the BJP nominee to be elected unopposed.
The rules provide that a recognised party must have at least 10 per cent of the strength of the Legislative Assembly to propose a candidate for the Rajya Sabha, and in the event of it being an independent candidate, the nomination has to be proposed by 10 MLAs. Goa’s opposition had neither.
A strong, reliable opposition plays a significantly important role in democracy, not just in creating hurdles for the government or acting as a stumbling block, but also in keeping the government in check.
In that respect, despite its reduced strength, the opposition in Goa has kept a check on the government and on governance, aided by a robust civil society and army of non-governmental organisations that are constantly raising issues outside the Assembly, which the opposition then takes to the floor of the house.
This check hasn’t gone beyond pointing out where the government is failing or has gone wrong. Simply again, because it does not have the strength in numbers to make the government sit up and take notice.
But then a lot more is expected from the opposition in Goa, specifically some unity among them, and there have been instances of internal misunderstandings that led to some open washing of dirty linen.
In that sense, the opposition in Goa needs to mature and show its maturity. However, there is just one MLA in the opposition with legislative experience, the other six are first-time MLAs who, despite displaying some skills in the opposition, still have a lot to learn.
Simultaneously, one has to look at the role that the Independent MLAs play. It has become almost a tradition, an expectation at least, that the Independent MLAs in Goa align with the party in power, whichever it may be.
This has been the case after every Assembly election and so too this time, when all three MLAs who were elected on non-party tickets threw in their lot with the party in power. This has almost silenced them in the Assembly, with them showing no initiative to take up people’s issues and concerns.
The defections of a year ago did injustice to Goa, as the opposition has been weakened considerably. Any State needs a robust opposition to keep the government on its toes. The MLAs who defected may have done so for their own benefit, the State has definitely not benefited from that defection.